written for fiefgoldenlake dot proboards dot com's SMACKDOWN competition!

What is love, really- reactions, driven by bodily impulse and biology, or something larger than what they are? Jon is sure he doesn't know, after Delia and Alanna, after Thayet, and now Keladry.

She is hesitant and onion-layered, resistant to his touch. He doesn't know how to express it- I love you, or words approximating that meaning, and she never offers a distinct, other pathway.

It is almost enough for them, or it is that it is not enough to wrench them apart? All she knows is that she doesn't want to be apart from him, that it is a struggle to go back to the north, to lose herself in rivers and pine trees. She does not take tokens of his affections with her, preferring to hold inside her heart those things she cannot say.

He-they are enough to sustain her.

He writes her a letter. I miss you, only black-inked words on plain white parchment, but it is a mistake, this act of putting pen to paper, because it makes everything seem that much more real. If he cannot send the words to her by proxy he will never be able to say them; if he cannot take the coward's way out he will do nothing at all.

He thinks of Kel in the northern moonlight, shadows dancing down the curves of her body, and he tries again- puts pen to paper, does it the old-fashioned way, but the right words are not within Jon's reach.

Why is it she wants him the most when she is apart from him- why is it that she craves him, wants him so close that he is in her blood, fully a part of her, why is it that she only feels this when they are separated. When they are together, it is only flesh, only desire, and Kel feels that that sort of want is almost trivial, that there are other things she could focus on.

It doesn't matter, because she will never admit anything where anyone could hear her, especially not Jonathan- but why is it that she cannot verbalize these emotions, and least of all to him?

Sometimes, the words threaten to spill out like an overturned glass: I love you I love you, despite their heavy, heady meaning. Kel returns from the north with pale skin and winter-chapped lips, but she does not run into Jon's waiting arms.

It pains him, surprisingly so, this blunt force trauma to his heart. He does not know what he was expecting- not her genuflecting in front of him, but he was expecting something, something besides the winter chill she seems to have carried down south.

It always seems that the mode to express such things flees him, but it is even harder when there is no one to tell it to.

Keladry sees Jonathan, stands scant feet apart, nothing separating them but a magnetic field and it in fact would pull them closer. But the physical closeness, the sight-lines, push them apart; two similar charges do not attract. Words escape her- they fly from her heart straight to the ceiling.

There is nothing to say. She has returned from the north, he is in front of her, they are both living and breathing, flesh and bone, but their common language has escaped them.

The question: do they have enough, now that they are together? It is an answer she does not know that she wants to seek out.

Alone at night, he thinks of her. In meetings, in private, he thinks of her. In the daylight, in the sun and rain, in wind and snow and ice: all of these, through all of these he thinks of her. But alone at night, Thayet's body cool beside him, he thinks of Keladry; the other woman, his counterpointing knife. Jonathan pictures her- the moonlight gilding her hair, turning it from plain brown to gold leaf, the stars matching the ones he always sees in her eyes. He thinks, and he wonders, but he does not get up out of the comforts of his blankets and find her. He will not see her under the city moon.

She thinks it will be him to say it first, and he thinks it will be her. They have spent so much more time apart than together, thinking about the significance and weight of three simple words, all of them four letters of less: I love you. Maybe, just maybe it is at the point where it would be healthier, even, to just spit it out.

Kel knows that it will not- cannot- be her. She is too afraid of the changes that phrase will wreak on Jonathan and her. It is the same reason she never wrote to him when she was snow-buried in the north: everything then becomes real, and though she usually faces things head-on, sometimes she cuts and runs.

But she hopes.